Oct 2, 2020 | Should You Write Your Own Blog?
To Blog or Not to Blog?
Today, blogging is treated not only as a hobby but also as a way to build a personal brand or develop a business. As such, whether or not to blog is often a strategic choice you can make during your professional career. So, should you write your own blog? Perhaps, as a way of promoting yourself as a person, promoting your expertise, or your little business? Or, as a way to foster your creativity and put your ideas on paper before you forget about them? Perhaps this blog post will help you make the decision to start (or to bury your plans!).
I was recently invited to talk about blogging in public at the BioRoom event coming up in November. On that occasion, I had an opportunity to reflect on why I’m actually writing a blog. Just as almost anything, blogging has its pros and cons. And, it is not necessarily a type of activity I would recommend to anyone and in any circumstances. Of course, since I blog, the benefits outcompete the downsides for me. Below, I placed the list of factors that you might take into account before making the ultimate decision on whether or not you should start blogging.
Let’s start with the cons.
Non-billable Working Time
One obvious downside of blogging is that it’s a form of charity work that can take many non-billable working hours every week. Blogging, just like any other creative task, requires focusing attention and active effort. Whenever you are writing blog posts, your mind is locked and you can’t do other, billable work at the same time — which, in some ways, is a financial loss.
The times when one could monetize a blog and live off from it, are long time gone. In the pre-YouTube times (10-15 years ago), blogging was one way of building a brand and making a living out of it. Today, most audiences prefer to either consume audiovisual content (YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, Clubhouse etc.), or text messages (Twitter, Signal, Whatsapp, Telegram, Discord). I wouldn’t blame them for this at all. Most white-collar professionals need to read so much text during the working day. From articles, through reports and minutes from the meetings, to emails and social media comms — all this melts the brain! Thus, they often don’t feel that they could afford gluing to their computers after working hours and reading any more text. So, they go out, do sports, watch Netflix, or listen to audiobooks instead. No blogs involved.
Furthermore, blogs are not as viral as, say, YouTube content. Of course, you can create a newsletter and notify your readers every time a new post arrives. But from what I know, this won’t change the fact that most of your page visits will still be organic traffic from the online browsers. And, no one will promote your content elsewhere unless you do it yourself. For this reason, it’s hard to increase the readership in any other way than by producing a lot of content and mastering SEO.
Lastly, readers are very sensitive to the commercial content. Of course, if you get enough organic traffic on your blog, you can start monetizing your work through Google Ads or Amazon associate links. However, most readers expect you to work entirely for free. Thus, if you post too many commercial materials on your blog, you might lose your readership or public trust, or both.
I knew all this from the very start. Therefore, I wasn’t thinking of blogging as a way to make direct income from the very beginning — otherwise, I would meet with a large disappointment.
This effect (also described in my recent book, “What Is out There For Me? The Landscape of Post-PhD Career Tracks”) is something that many people don’t take into account when they start treating their hobby seriously. The point is: if you enjoy writing as a hobby, and then decide to start a blog, your level of joy of satisfaction might rapidly drop. Once you write regularly, you will build some impact and following from it. From now on, you will be concerned with your stats, your reputation according to Google bots, public comments that you get. One day you might wake up in the morning and feel that you no longer want to do what used to be your biggest hobby just a few years ago.
Race for Attention
Related to the previous point, the fact that you have good content doesn’t mean that anyone will notice this content. Even Google machines won’t care about your blog if it doesn’t fulfill certain criteria (blog posts of a certain length, structured in a certain way, pivoting around a certain subject). I was never really interested about the visibility of my blog. Now when I have my own company, I feel that I need to care of it. So, if there is no audience for the blog, there is no point in keeping it alive. I started blogging 14 years ago (for the first 9 years, I was blogging in Polish), and I only started reading about SEO this year! It was mostly because I encountered other people who have their own blogs are are mindful about their online visibility, such as Lyuben Laskin, the author of the Probabilistic World (dedicated to statistics, probability, and Bayesian inference) or Dr. Veronika Cheplygina, the host of the “How I Fail” series (dedicated to how people in academia cope with failure, stress, and insecurity at work). Both of them achieved a much broader audience than me.
Lyuben and Veronika approached developing a blog differently (SEO and organic growth versus promotion through social media). It was an interesting lesson. It might mean that there are many functional ways of developing a blog. Regardless of that, you need to actively take care of it, and it requires compromises from you. For instance, if you decide to write about just anything that interests you, your audience will always be small. So, if you want to reach out to a broader audience, you will need set aside your private preferences once in a while, and profile your content to what your readers find the most useful.
And now, the pleasant and long-awaited part!
I’m a type of person for whom writing is an energizing activity. I enjoy writing so much that I sometimes like to think that the hours when I’m writing are my “real life” — while everything else that I experience in life is just a playground so that I have something to write about. Writing makes me feel productive and rested at the same time, and it’s a better chill out time than going out, sports, or watching movies. Thus, although blogging costs me time, it doesn’t cost me much life energy. It’s a “recharging” time.
Although I adore interacting with people, I also really enjoy my own accompany while writing. I would have no problem locking myself indoors for a week or two and spending this whole time on writing. I did so in November last year: I locked myself up for four weeks to write a book. The only things I was doing with that time were writing, watching Netflix movies in the evenings, and going to the spa on the weekends. That’s how I wrote my first book, and I consider that month one of the best months of my life. Officially a weirdo from now on.
Freedom of Speech
While articles and books are written more in the “textbook” style and need to be safe and factual (and sometimes, quite dry), a blog is supposed to be written in the “essay” style that imposes fewer rules and can be much edgier. It means that you can make your points and express yourself your way. You can talk seriously, or joke, or write a poem in the middle of the blog post is you feel like doing so. Almost anything that is not offensive, is acceptable. I enjoy a high degree of personal freedom in general, so this is yet another way to celebrate freedom.
A Blog Doesn’t Let Your Creative Thoughts Die
Sometimes, creative thoughts suddenly come to you and then vanish in the air as quickly as they appeared — unless you quickly jump to your computer and write them down. I treat the blog as a self-development tool and a platform where I can develop and document the seeds of creative ideas. Most of them are too small to convert them into a book or a full-fledged article. Yet, they are ideas worth one evening of my time. Within this time, I can place them online and open them for a discussion. And who knows, sometimes a topic becomes trendy years and years after it was first mentioned. So, this content is never lost, and even if it gets overlooked door. Along time, it doesn’t mean that it won’t lead to some projects in the future.
Playground For a Home-Grown Author
In order to write books, you need to have a craft in your hand — it’s not a skill that you can develop by taking a 20-hour course. Lack of writing skills is also not a problem that might be solved by hiring someone to put your thoughts on paper. You need years and years of learning by trial and error. In times when I was starting to blog as an undergrad in Warsaw, I offended quite a few people by making my posts too edgy, and by using too dry sense of humor. I had to tune myself down and find a balance so that I can talk about my own point of view without censoring myself too much, but at the same time, without making foes. It took me ages to learn!
But the effort paid off. When it comes to writing books right now, I don’t have any problem with putting together my thoughts in a structured and engaging way. Furthermore, some of my blog posts became the building blocks for my first book. Some other blog posts — either those which I already wrote, or those which I’m still planning to write later — are going to be the seeds for concepts I’m about to place in my future books. As a matter of fact, to write a good book, you need some substrates: creative insights or ideas that cannot be found elsewhere — rather than just making a summary of knowledge that you gained from reading 50 other books and articles on the same subject. Blogging is a good stimulus to think independently and create new content.
It is also a good way to learn about writing in general. Some of the best book authors are those who made the transition from blogging towards authoring books. They gained a natural way to engage the reader and to earn their attention over and over throughout the text. No wonder that many best-selling authors have or had a blog. Learning by doing, that’s it.
Documentation of How You Reason, and What Interests You
This blog helped me to make some strategic decisions in my life, especially after my PhD contract expired. At first, I felt completely lost, therefore I took a gap year (as reported in the posts The Gap Year, and The Gap Year — vol. 2) to better focus on myself. I didn’t have a plan of what to do with myself, and I was mind wandering a lot. Yet, the other day, I sat down and looked back at all the posts that I had produced in recent years, and I was shocked. Although I was working 60-70 hours a week as a neuroscientist, pretty much nothing I have ever written, was about the human brain! I was clearly interested in sociology, self-development, job market, tech, and many other topics, but the human brain wasn’t even in the top ten. Sometimes it’s good to look at yourself from the distance. According to the popular proverb, “What you are procrastinating on, is probably what you should be doing for a living.” So, based on my blog, I concluded that eventually, neuroscience is not “it” for me.
You Own Plot in the Meadows of Internet
I’m quite territorial, and I have a sense of ownership, Intellectual Property, and equity. Therefore, I notice the difference between writing a blog on your own website. Your own blog is a piece of soil that belongs to you — as opposed to writing posts on external websites such as, e.g., on LinkedIn or Medium. In the latter case, you are only yet another blogger in the crowd of other bloggers. And you help the platform more (as your work holds the attention of the audience for a while) than the platform helps you. The platform monetizes on the work of all this sea of bloggers after all. So, I would rather have my small, modest plot that I can take care of (and then I know that everyone who comes there, comes there for me) in the corner of the meadow rather than a huge plot in the middle of the meadow (where all types people walk through in every direction without a plan and without even noticing me).
Interesting People Come to Your Life
As mentioned above, blogging is a niche domain and it probably won’t make you rich and famous. But is it always numbers the thing you need? I noticed some time ago that it’s much better to work with and befriend the right people rather than stand on stage and get a sea of random likes. Even if this is not the most popular blog out there, do I need to care about this when entrepreneurs and researchers whom I know and respect, contact me and ask me about possible collaborations because of my content?
Business is full of random people — plankton of these “serial entrepreneurs” who don’t have any hard skills in their hand or any real vision, and who would do absolutely anything in business as long as it makes money. Thus, you must have a good way of filtering people. Those who read my blog regularly are those who think alike. And that’s the first good sign before I decide to work with someone.
Gut Feeling About the Desired Competencies in the Job Market of the Future
I track what’s happening to people in times on social media. I use to read a blog by Paul Graham, PhD (the co-Founder of Y Combinator) and other authors who don’t place any form of audiovisual information on their side. For me, this has a therapeutical value. I can focus on the actual text without any fancy visuals, pop-up ad banners in the corner, links to other stuff, or calls to action. And, I feel that this is going to be the trend — people slowly realizing that the fast food information online affects their mental health, and restricting the time for weekly social media activity on behalf of consuming well-structured information.
So, my gut feeling is telling me that in a few years, there will be a big comeback of the traditional ways of distributing information. There will be some internet-free meetups where you cannot exchange contact information using anything else than a traditional business card. Reading and writing books and blogs will be seen as prestigious — a domain of well-educated people and highly-qualified professionals — as opposed to those who are grown up on fast-food social media. So, even if this blog has little impact now, it’s not necessarily going to be the case in five or ten years from now.
Summary: So, Should You Write Your Own Blog?
So, to sum up the points raised above, in which situations would I recommend writing your own blog?
You Enjoy Writing and You Don’t Care
As mentioned before, some people just enjoy writing, and it brings them energy rather than making them tired. I sometimes get some idea for a blog post when I jump on the train to visit friends in Amsterdam, and when I take off 80 minutes later, the draft of the post is already there. If you have the same affinity to writing, and you don’t have any expectations to ever become popular or wealthy because of your blog, it might be worth considering to start a blog.
You Aim to Build a Personal Brand As a Professional
If there is a particular topic you are knowledgeable about and you would like to write about to demonstrate your knowledge, a blog might be the way to build your professional portfolio. However, mind that it’s a long term game, ad within the first year, your blog likely won’t contain enough content to be a good representation of your expertise.
You Have a Little Business and You Want to Build Some Following for Your Company
Small companies are still fighting for attention from potential clients, and put a lot of attention into blogging for at least two reasons. Firstly, it was proven that a blog increases company sales by 60% on average as it allows to engage external audience and build the name. Secondly, job seekers often make decisions upon applying for jobs based on the content of the company website. Therefore, it is essential to have good content that represents the vision and mission of the company in there.
However, writing takes a ton of time, and there is a great difference between “writing” and “good writing.” So, if you don’t have a decent writer on the team, I would advise writing short-form articles such as LinkedIn posts on the company page instead.
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Please cite as: Bielczyk, N. (2020). Should You Write Your Own Blog? Retrieved from https://nataliabielczyk.com/should-you-write-your-own-blog/